Joining of Northamptonshire’s ‘blue light’ services faces criticism

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‘If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’, was the criticism levelled at Northamptonshire County Council as it unveiled plans to ‘join-up’ working between police and fire services.

The authority and the police and crime commissioner are driving forward a plan to bring Northamptonshire Police and the county’s fire and rescue service ‘together’ - though the details of exactly how this would work remain vague.

The scheme is being helped with a £620,000 grant from the Home Office to run the trial and will gradually see the two service sharing properties, services, training and fleet maintenance over the coming years.

Officers from both services could attend incidents in the same vehicle - which has already proved controversial with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

But speaking at a Northamptonshire County Council cabinet meeting this week, a number of county councillors expressed concerns that the moves would hand some control of the fire service over to police and crime commissioner Adam Simmonds.

At the meeting the cabinet agreed to press forward with plans to reach a joint management structure within a year, with a long-term view to a full merger backed by the council and Mr Simmonds. A full merger however, will not be possible without a change in the law first.

Councillor Dennis Meredith (Lib Dem, Talavera) said: “If it’s not broken don’t fix it - we have an excellent fire service which is held in high regard.

“A crime commissioner should not be interfering in the fire service - he has not got the expertise surely.”

Councillor John McGee (Lab, Kingswood) said the Government had thrown out plans for a ‘single governance’ model between police and fire in 2013.

He feared the moves would eventually lead to just that - a single authority controlling both services.

Thelengthy report on the joining of the blue light services which went before the cabinet this week highlights the ‘financial benefits’ of such a move.

But Councillor McGee said: “Any proposed single authority or merger would be driven by cuts - and that’s not good for the public.”

Councillor Sally Beardsworth (Lib Dem, Kingsthorpe South) said fire officers would be put in danger turning up to incidents alongside police.

She said: “When a fireman turns up to a job he is always welcome - people know he is there to help.

“If they are associated with the police I’m afraid they will not be quite as welcome.”

Addressing the concerns cabinet member for public protection Councillor Gonzales De Savage (Con, East Hunsbury and Shelfeys) said the current plans do not propose any change to the ‘decision making powers’ of either service.

He said: “We know there’s a good strength in working together.

“We will work together, we will combine operations where possible, but we will respect the professionalism of both organisations.”